Professional Carwashing & Detailing

The Internet Factor

October 11, 2010
Perhaps the single biggest influence on any industry today is the Internet. Sure, there are new technologies that have radically changed the way we wash cars, and there are new practices that have streamlined operations and opened doors to progress and efficiency — but no single technology or practice has been able to so thoroughly change the face of the industry as the Internet has done.

As an operator, every relationship you have to this industry is affected by the Internet. Your relationships with customers, your distributor, your business, and your fellow operators have all been shaped by this mega-colossal connectivity.

Unfortunately, not every carwash operator is aware of the opportunities the Internet is giving him. Even worse, some operators refuse to acknowledge the way the Internet is shaping their businesses. They may be giving away customers by not branding themselves on a website, or they may be giving away money by not using new site management technologies to monitor their businesses.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing presents this small analysis of what the Internet has done so far — and a glimpse at what it might do in the future — as a way to further educate those already aware and to wake up those who are in the captain’s chair, sleeping.

What it’s doing
By and large, the Internet is improving three key areas of carwash operations:
  • Site management;
  • Marketing; and
  • Communications.

These, in turn, influence the four key relationships:

  1. Operator to customer;
  2. Operator to business;
  3. Operator to supplier (or manufacturer, distributor); and
  4. Operator to industry (association, other operators).
If a carwasher is ignoring any one of these key relationships or areas of operations, he is ignoring the full potential of the Internet. By ignoring the importance of the Internet in site management, he ignores the importance of efficiency in his operations. By ignoring the importance of Internet marketing, he ignores the importance of recruiting and retaining new customers.

Management now
Site management reflects the operator-to-business relationship; from how you manage your labor to how you purchase and monitor chemicals, site management is about knowledge. This knowledge determines the efficiency of your facility, as well as your potential for growth.

Advancements in site management technology have largely been focused on the tunnel segment of the industry, but it also affects self-serve and IBAs, especially when there is more than one location to be monitored. Today’s site management technology relies on the Internet both for software innovations and for remote monitoring.

According to Kevin Detrick, president of Innovative Control Systems (ICS), a manufacturer of tunnel controllers and point-of-sales software, keeping costs down and consistency in your service are the two most important benefits of using site management software.

“The Internet provides all of this connectivity and free flow of information. It can link your sites for marketing and management information and improve efficiency in the office to dump into accounting and payroll interfaces,” Detrick explains.

Detrick advises his customers to use site management software in conjunction with the Internet to monitor expenses and wash services, as well as labor and profits. With the Internet, they are able to make executive decisions remotely, and also manage more than one site in an efficient manner.

More affordable, too
The Internet is making site management technology easier and more affordable for operators, too, says Kyle Doyle, CEO of Compuwash, Inc., a manufacturer of tunnel controllers and point-of-sale software. “Because of the prevalence of broadband and higher-speed connections, we can use the Internet as an actual computing platform,” Doyle explains. “Instead of downloading and installing software, you go to a website and use software on a server.”

This practice is called SaaS (Software as a Service). It means less expense for the operator, and it also means total remote capabilities. Anywhere in the world, an operator that has access to a computer with an Internet connection can plug into a website and access the complete version of his management software online.

Safety
The Internet is also affecting the safety of your business. Remote surveillance and security systems give operators 24/7 access to their carwashes, without having to be there physically. Operators can keep an eye on employees, they can keep an eye on customers and they can keep an eye on criminals. Having a recorded presence also allows for better interactions between local law enforcement and courts.

Lastly, the Internet has revolutionized credit card processing. Operators are now able to deny a service before it is even granted if a card is declined. As credit cards continue to become a preferred method of payment for many customers, operators are finding the Internet enables them to quickly and efficiently process their credit cards without worrying about fraud.

Marketing now
Marketing is the operator-to-customer relationship. Your customers are on the Internet, whether you like it or not. Do you have a website? If not, you need one. A simple website won’t cost much to create or operate, and will become a great long-term investment. (For more tips on creating and operating your website, turn to p. 45.)

Ryan Carlson, project manager of WashCard Systems, a company providing credit and debit-card technology, stresses this website is not for potential customers so much as it is for new customers. Carlson said it is important to give new customers a destination after they have left your carwash site.

“People aren’t going to find your wash for the first time through the Internet,” Carlson says. “The website is about leveraging the Internet so that the customers have a destination to go to after they have visited your carwash. It generates huge amounts of branding, marketing, and promotional loyalty.”

Carlson says you should be advertising specials and offering coupons on your website, as well as harvesting customer email addresses for targeted communications.

Communication now
It seems the most interesting way the Internet has shaped our industry is by fostering and growing operator-to-operator relationships. In the last ten years, carwash owners have seen unprecedented connectivity to their fellow operators.

From troubleshooting to brainstorming to networking, online forums for carwash operators (like www.talkcarwash.com, www.autocareforum.com and the bulletin boards at www.carwash.com) have given operators a chance to connect with each other every hour of every day. Operators can swap stories, trade ideas and offer advice from the comfort of their home or office.

Allan Branch, founder of www.talkcarwash.com, an online forum for carwash operators created in 2006, stresses that these online meeting grounds will never replace the value of face-to-face networking opportunities at regional and international trade shows, but they are giving operators a 24/7 connection.

There are two important benefits to online communication, Branch explains:
  1. It’s a non-threatening medium. Users can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet if they have a dumb question or are afraid to approach their peers.
  2. It’s instant gratification. Can’t wait for the big show? Post your query on the Internet and wait for responses within the next few hours.
“You can find a fix for a problem fast and quick, even if you don’t know people,” Branch says. “It helps operators save money and have less down-time.”

These online forums have also created a new way for operators to communicate with distributors and manufacturers, says Bill Pitzer, founder of the first online forum exclusively for carwash operators, www.autocareforum.com. “It gives a voice to the little guy, the operator,” explains Pitzer.

Pitzer created his site in 1995. “From day one, the younger, more technical-minded operators started to find the forum and started helping each other with their various day to day problems,” Pitzer says. The majority were self-serve operators who were hands-on with their businesses, although now tunnel and IBA operators are just as likely to use the Internet forums.

Further communications
The Internet has also fostered increased communication between associations and operators. The International Carwash Association is moving to Internet-based video communications, while the Mid-Atlantic Carwash Association is increasingly relying on email communication. Manufacturers have also been able to take advantage of the Internet by offering current and potential customers more access and information to their products through websites and video demonstrations.

Paul Fazio, CEO of Sonny’s Enterprises, Inc., said investors are coming to his booth at carwash shows with more knowledge and research. “It is amazing to see people coming in this prepared, and they’ve downloaded all their information from the web, they’ve done their searches, they know who you are,” Fazio explains. “It’s incredibly powerful, and it gives a new way to approach customers.”

The Internet has also given operators unprecedented access to recent events happening in their industry. Professional Carwashing & Detailing launched its e-News service over 11 years ago, and has been keeping operators informed twice-a-week with its ten-story line-up of carwash news ever since.


Kate Carr is editor in chief of Professional Carwashing & Detailing. She can
be reached at kcarr@carwash.com.